What to do if you’re a victim of cyberbullying and doxxing

Doxxing may have been outlawed earlier this year (January 2020), but given the spate of COVID-19 shaming on the Internet, it would appear that there is little awareness or regard for the law.

Take the case of the Sovereign Lady, Paramjeet Kaur, who was charged in court for offences including refusing to wear a mask and being a public nuisance. She was filmed in public refusing to wear a face mask at a market during the Circuit Breaker. In the video, she is seen claiming that she is a ‘sovereign’ and not bound by local laws.

Her video/s went viral online and made the news. Internet vigilantes decided to hunt down her identity and, in doing so, wrongly identified another individual, Tuhina Singh, as the Sovereign Lady.  A May 2020 Straits Times report noted what happened to Singh, who is a chief executive officer of a digital securities firm:

They [doxxers] posted her personal details online, including her photos and names of her colleagues, prompting a string of racist and xenophobic comments against her.

Singh eventually managed to clear the air, but the case exemplifies how Internet hate and doxxing can hurt just about anyone. On the SG Covidiots Facebook group, there are people who occasionally shame members of the public who do not adhere to proper mask wearing, by snapping their pictures and posting them in the FB group.

Hiding behind fake IDs

Road rage and drivers behaving badly on the roads are a common sight. Online identities are like drivers on the physical roads. You cannot identify the person properly, just like online avatars. Therefore, there is a propensity to flagrantly misbehave, because people think they can hide behind a mask and get away with abusive behaviour.

In this day and age, it is so difficult for people to avoid leaving a digital trail. Of course, I’m certain most people would not carelessly give away things like passwords and home addresses. However, the nature of some jobs may require that people list their work emails and positions. This is almost inevitable for people in the public service, media and communications.

As Singapore and the world economy embrace digitalisation, more and more of our interactions will go online. The things we say on social media can easily be found through ‘leaks’ from weak or distant network connection.

It’s easy to say: be careful with what you put online. But the reality is that motivated harassers and bullies will finds ways and means to dig up information about their victims.

The Emotional Stages of being Cyber Bullied (and what you can do)

For victims, the harm of the Internet is very real. The impact of doxxing and harassment leads to the following:

Stage 1: Fear. It can be very frightening initially because there is fear that personal information leaks will lead to offline breaches, and possibly physical intimidation of sorts.

Stage 2: Depression. After the paranoia and fear subsides, the nagging feeling of depression seeps in and it can lead to self-harm, for those who are vulnerable to begin with.

Stage 3: Anger. Eventually, the depression becomes anger. Somewhere down the line, the hurt from the abuse may be vented out in some form, causing harm to others.

The impact and emotional hurt from being cyberbullied is no different from school or workplace bullying. The key is to document and report such incidences to the higher authorities when it crosses the line. It’s a fine line and grey area when it comes to doxxing, but here is some information from website, Singapore Legal Advice, to determine if you’re a victim of doxxing:

1. Publishing personal information with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress

Under the amended section 3 of the POHA, a person will be guilty of an offence if he publishes the personal information of a person (or of others related to that person) with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress to that person, and that person (or any other person) does in fact experience harassment, alarm or distress.

For example, A publishes the personal information of B on an online forum, with the intention to cause distress to B. A may be guilty of an offence under the amended section 3 of the POHA if B’s family members or colleagues feel distressed. This is even though their own personal information had not been shared.

The penalties for this offence are a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 6 months’ jail for a firstconviction. These maximum penalties are doubled for repeat offenders.

If you have suffered from harassment of some sort online, we would recommend not responding or inflicting harm on yourself and others. Document everything in detail and seek help. Tell your parents and trusted friends. When it crosses a line, make a police report.

If you’re the victims’ friend, do not share the posts or videos. Help by reporting the posts to the platform moderators and community managers.

And, of course, the number 1 rule: Think before you post. Don’t post information that you’ll regret later and don’t put out sensitive personal information on the Internet.